September 6, 2017

GateHouse Takes Big Step Towards Data-Driven Culture

Gatehouse Media Case Study Clearhead

“The Clearhead data-driven consulting team is helping us transform how we organize and grow a digital products team within a modern media company.” Robert Saurer, VP Consumer Marketing, GateHouse

Traditional media companies are struggling to compete in a changing landscape- a landscape that requires both agility and digital product innovation to capture the attention of an increasingly distracted consumer.  

GateHouse Media publishes more than 600 community papers and manages 555 websites, making it one of the largest publishers of local media in the country. At its size, GateHouse needed to scale its testing team and process but found it difficult to do so at the pace it desired. GateHouse hired Clearhead’s consulting practice to fast track a data-driven culture throughout the company by changing the way they think about people, process, technology and culture.


Clearhead begins every engagement with Problem Solution Mapping (PSM), our proven framework for achieving data-driven results in every part of the business. PSM is comprised of three core stages: defining objectives and goals, problem discovery + validation and developing + mapping hypotheses and testing them.

Through PSM Clearhead focuses a company’s investments and attention on a set of targets that align with the overarching goals of the business, greatly improving the odds of generating ROI.

Due to GateHouse’s complex structure, Clearhead pursued a two-pronged approach to incorporate perspectives of both the Consumer Marketing team and other internal stakeholders. The engagement began with a PSM workshop, which allowed for GateHouse Media’s existing test creation and approval process to be mapped out in its entirety to identify the biggest challenges in creating an efficient process.  

Gatehouse Process Map

Full size image found here.

Through this process the Clearhead team was able to pinpoint gaps and redundancies in the testing process,  as well as begin to formulate solution-hypotheses.

The PSM and process mapping workshops were followed up with a series of activities to complete our understanding of the company including:

The Problem

With a comprehensive view of the company, Clearhead was able to identify barriers in three core areas: prioritization, measurement and communication.

Currently prioritization was limited to the the speed at which a test could be run. This inconsistent prioritization created a “firehose” effect that slowed GateHouse’s process.

The sharing of data from previous tests was also absent from the process. By not circulating data stories as part of the testing process, GateHouse was unable to maximize testing impact, nor learn from earlier successes or failures.

This data gap also pointed to a larger challenge GateHouse was facing: communication. Communication between the Consumer Marketing group,  publishers, local newspapers and other stakeholders was limited. As you can imagine with 555 websites communication can be difficult. The majority of shared information was limited to to a periodic email newsletter. As a result, there was a persistent knowledge and understanding gap between the Consumer Marketing team and the other internal stakeholders.


Clearhead developed the following hypotheses (and tests to run) around the three identified problem themes:


We believe that creating a process to archive and incorporate previous tests will allow for more data informed decisions. If we are right, test selection and prioritization will better align with strategic goals, and the communication of test results will become easier.


We believe that establishing specific criteria for prioritization will create an environment where alignment with business goals drives decisions. If we are right, the number of tests that are not aligned with business goals will decrease, and the ability to identify and measure successful tests will increase.


We believe that resolving issues around prioritization and reporting will make communicating results easier and more impactful. If we are right, positive feedback from data consumers will increase, as will uptake of Consumer Marketing data.

Blueprint for Success

Clearhead recommended that Gatehouse focus its efforts on the following to fill current gaps and streamline its testing process:

  • Build a Success Measurement Framework to measure the success of the new process and to further increase test success metrics and internal satisfaction surveys.
  • Create a Improved Testing Process Map to clearly map and detail the test process using data, with the proposed improvements, to resolve identified problems.
  • Communication + Reporting Improvements to assist with the reporting and communication of data stories, particularly including measurement of  improvements through surveys and feedback.

Beyond the Blueprint

What may seem like small changes -addressing gaps in process, measurement and communication- can have a profound effect on the entire company. Gatehouse can now implement a process that confirms which tests actually improve the business, and dispel concerns of testing simply for the sake of testing. Refining its testing process ensures the ability to pinpoint which efforts move the needle and why. These small improvements will lead to building a modern digital product team.

Gatehouse’s concerted efforts to redesign its testing program have led to a more efficient process, as well as the launch of several large winning tests. These benefits will continue to multiply as the organization embraces the new process to increase velocity and decrease waste in its testing efforts.

Our Clearhead Accelerator practice helps product teams embrace a culture of experimentation to launch and improve products with ROI in mind. Need help? Reach out.

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